Bill MillEr Group

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1970 & 1971
No Sonobeat-authorized commercial releases
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A completed master tape of Twisted Flower
Producer Bill Josey Sr.'s session notes for the March 27, 1971, recording session; he's misspelled Bill Miller's last name...

The year is 1971. The place is Austin, Texas. Who and what is this mysterious musical collaboration that Sonobeat co-founder/producer Bill Josey Sr. refers to as, simply, the "Bill Miller Group"? Bill Miller's "Group" is known as Amethyst before beginning its near-mythical 1970 and 1971 Sonobeat sessions, but at some point during the sessions the "Group" changes its name to The Daily Planet; however, Bill Sr. rarely calls them that. The Sonobeat sessions produce a highly programmatic album entitled Cold Sun. Even more mysteriously, over the following years, the group comes to be known as Cold Sun and the album as Dark Shadows, following the unsanctioned limited vinyl release on the Rockadelic label.

Sonobeat's archives list the following artists on the Cold Sun sessions: Bill Miller, Tom McGarrigle, Hugh Patton, and Mike Waugh. Waugh previously has played bass on Jim Chesnut's country-pop single for Sonobeat and on Herman Nelson's second song demo album for Sonobeat's sister company, Sonosong Music. All songs on the Cold Sun album are written by Bill Miller, except Fall, co-written by Miller and Winston Taylor, and the album's epic finale, Ra-Ma, based in part on Egyptian mythology, written by Miller and McGarrigle with lyric contributions by frequent Sonobeat collaborator Herman Nelson.

Visionary lyricist and electric autoharp wielder supreme Billy Miller recorded these three astonishing songs [Fall, Here In The Year, and Ram-Ma] with his quartet Cold Sun a/k/a Dark Shadows, in Texas’ legendary Sonobeat Studios, creating a startlingly rich-but-ragged heathen-as-f&#% post-psychedelic sound that many believe was way ahead of its time.
Julian Cope Album of the Month review in Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage (May 2009)

Miller's electric autoharp, perhaps an analog to the 13th Floor Elevators' amplified jug, adds a significant contribution to the distinctive sound of the Cold Sun tracks. But capturing the unique sound of the autoharp challenges Bill Sr., and, after trying and discarding several mirophone techniques, he opts for direct injection, plugging the autoharp's pickups directly into Sonobeat's custom 16-channel mixing console.

Cold Sun is recorded over a five month period, starting in November 1970 and finishing in March 1971 at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin. Final touches, including some re-recordings and vocal overdubs but primarily extensive remix sessions take place at Sonobeat's new North Lamar studio in Austin in July and August 1971. There are confusing titles on the various master tape boxes, possibly early titles of songs that change as the album matures – titles like Marble, Mind Aura, Light, What Season, Cycle, and Silent. These titles (except for Marble) don't appear as part of Bill Sr.'s final remixes on July 29, 1971, and Marble is mysteriously removed from the album's final track sequencing less than a month later.

...one of the most important and revered psychedlic underground albums from the early 70s. Killer heavy psych masterpiece featuring amazing guitar and autoharp playing that will blow your mind.
Rateyourmusic.com user Fantasyman, who rates Dark Shadows a/k/a Cold Sun #10 on his list A Psychedelic Revolution: Fantasyman's Top 40 Psychedelic Albums

Although the album is never released by Sonobeat, Bill Sr. contemplates releasing a stereo single featuring See What You Cause and Twisted Flower, but he eventually abandons those release plans for reasons not documented in the Sonobeat archives. In a shift from his customary practice, Bill Sr. doesn't make vinyl test pressings of the Cold Sun album. Instead, he circulates inexpensive audiocassette dubs to his contacts at major record companies, hoping to license the masters for a national release. But there are no takers for the esoteric, often bizarre psychedelic recordings. Although dubs of the master tapes have circulated for 45 years, the album is not publicly released until 1989 when specialty label Rockadelic issues a limited vinyl edition of 300 copies under the artist name Cold Sun and album title Dark Shadows, a title Miller selects as homage to the '60s cult TV series. The Rockadelic and subsequent releases, including a digital version sold by Amazon, are not Sonobeat-sanctioned releases and are not mastered Sonobeat's original session tapes or mix-downs.

Miller goes on from Cold Sun to perform, along with McGarrigle, with Roky Erickson and the Aliens. Taking the stage name Billy Angel, Miller later moves to Marin County, California, and joins the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based punk rock band The Blood Drained Cows, flying around the country wherever the band performs.

Bill Miller Group personnel

Tom McGarrigle: electric guitar, bass, and vocals
Bill Miller: electric autoharp, harmonica, slide guitar, electric guitar, and vocals
Hugh Patton: drums and percussion
Mike Waugh: bass

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Cycle
Fall* (Bill Miller-Winston Taylor) • 7:06
For Ever* (Bill Miller) • 4:22
Here in the Year* (Bill Miller) • 8:48
History Ends
Light
Marble
Mind Aura
Number 1
Ra-Ma* (Bill Miller-Patrick McGarrigle-Herman Nelson) • 11:09
See What You Cause* (Bill Miller) • 3:36
Silent
South Texas* (Bill Miller) • 5:15
To Her
Twisted Flower* (Bill Miller) • 2:59
What Season

* indicates tracks selected for release on an album tentatively entitled Cold Sun; although various takes of the same song have different running times, the running times indicated are of the final mixes

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio on November 17-18, December 9, 1970, and March 27, 1971, and at Sonobeat's North Lamar studio in Austin in July and August 1971, in Austin, Texas
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, AKG D707E dynamic microphone, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Stemco half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex AG350 quarter-inch 2-track tape deck, custom 16-channel 4-bus mixing console, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, Scotch 202 and Ampex 681 tape stock
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Final word
Was Sonobeat co-founder and Cold Sun producer Bill Josey Sr. strongly superstitious? Bill Miller thought so. In an interview replayed over the internet, Miller says "Josey ... believed that the Johnny Winter album’s exact track length was a lucky number. It was 43 or 45 minutes and – oh, I forget how many seconds. You can check the Johnny Winter length – you will find that it is exactly the same length as the Cold Sun album – exactly, to the second." Miller was referring to Johnny Winter's The Progressive Blues Experiment that Sonobeat recorded in 1968 and sold to Liberty Records for national release on Liberty's Imperial label. Bill Sr. certainly hoped to sell Cold Sun to a national label, too. The Sonobeat "white jacket" advance release of The Progressive Blues Experiment has a total running time of 43:15, although the Imperial version has a total running time of 42:54. The final version of the Cold Sun album that Bill Sr. assembles has a total running time of... 43:15!
The first work tape from the epic November 1970 Sonobeat sessions with Bill Miller Group
The second work tape from the epic November 1970 Sonobeat sessions with Bill Miller Group
The final Cold Sun album master tape